Washington’s open government laws are prefaced with an undiluted expression for citizen empowerment:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. (RCW 42.56.030)
But nearly forty years later there are a growing number citizens, journalists, and public advocates who’ve become increasingly troubled by the various and sometimes ingenious ways that state and local government agencies have found to undermine and defy this basic commitment to transparent government. In effect, government has become a powerful interest group upon itself, and the playing field on issues of openness has steadily been slanted against citizens seeking access and information.
“When it comes to open government,” Seattle Times columnist Kate Riley wrote in a March 3, 2008 column, “a sledgehammer is sorely needed.”
We agree. As much as a new reform effort is needed to close loopholes and reinforce the main tenets of the law, it’s also clear to us that citizens across the state can benefit by a more concerted and systematic effort to enforce the laws as they exist. That’s the purpose for the Open Government Audit Project (OGAP) that the Center for Justice has initiated with our partner, the Allied Law Group. Our goal is to identify instances where citizen access to records and government decision-making is being unjustly impeded and, where warranted by the facts, take legal action to end the practice.
We can’t solve every problem, but we think it’s time to start trying better to solve the ones we can. If you have experienced problems getting access to public records from state agencies, or believe an agency is making decisions in secret that ought to be made in public, please contact us at the Center for Justice or call us at (509) 835-5211 (ask for Tim Connor) and provide us with a short description of the problem, the agency involved, and the actions you and others have taken. For answers to frequently asked questions about the Open Public Meetings Act go here. For answers to frequently asked questions about the Open Public Records Act, go here.